Archive for race

A risotto analogy

Ok, imagine you are a judge on one of those celebrity cooking shows. Got it? Good. Let’s say that you’re tasting two tomato risottos, one made by Andy and one made by Caroline. Andy’s risotto is slightly better, so you award the prize to Andy. So far, so fair.

But then after the contest, questions emerge. Caroline isn’t happy with the outcome. She’s a bad loser, maybe: she’s claiming the judgement was unfair. Which is ridiculous. You were the judge; you know your only criteria was the tastiness of the risotto. And although Caroline had clearly tried her best, hers just didn’t have that fresh, juicy tang to it that Andy’s did. Which, now you come to think of it, is odd, because you watched both meals being prepared and Caroline looked like the better cook.

Caroline demands an investigation. Not into you, but into the way the show was constructed. It turns out that when each contestant was provided with their ingredients, Andy was given the best tomatoes, the freshest herbs, the most expensive pan. Caroline was given tomatoes that were slightly off, not quite enough arborio rice, and olive oil that smelt a bit funny. There wasn’t time to complain, though, and Caroline is such a good cook she was sure she could beat Andy even with these handicaps. But she was wrong. The ingredients just weren’t up to it and Andy, who is technically not as good a cook, produced slightly better food. Andy was surprised by the result too, it turned out, but he was hardly going to turn down the prize; after all, he’d worked for it and had done nothing wrong.

Why did Andy get given better tools? Well, the people in charge of distributing them, Dan and Tony, didn’t do it deliberately. They just got chatting to Andy and he seemed like a nice guy, and then when it came to giving Caroline her equipment there wasn’t much left. Nobody meant any harm, really, or not consciously, or not much.

The trouble is, the same thing happened during the previous show with Rob and Sheila, and the show before with Dave and Harriet. And as it happened, Rob and Dave had won their shows too. So did Bob and Fred and George and Paul. And when you thought you were judging Andy and Caroline on merit – you weren’t.

And maybe you don’t like the idea of taking that kind of context into account. It makes everything a lot more complicated, and surely none of it should be your problem. You did what you were supposed to do. But it’s nagging at you, because the wrong person won somehow, even though you thought you were being fair. So you get involved, and you talk to Dan and Tony, and you make sure the process of handing out ingredients and equipment is standardised in future so personal prejudice isn’t such an issue in future. And from then on, you’re more aware, and more inclined to look below the surface. And a risotto is no longer a risotto. It’s a metaphor.


Ceci n'est pas un risotto.


No sense of history, no sense of truth

The creator of Midsomer Murders, Brian True-May, has been suspended for his comments about the lack of non-white faces on the show.

The countryside isn't white. It's green and brown, mainly.

Asked about the whiteness of the village in which the show is set, he said, “…we just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them.”

In other words, an English village is only English if it’s all white. The implication here – not even an implication, really – is that only white people can be English. I’m sure the BNP would enthusiastically agree. But it’s not true. It’s not true legally, obviously, and it’s not true in practice. The history of England is a history of immigration, and hurray for that.

That last paragraph shouldn’t need saying at all, but I know it does, because lots and lots of white English people would agree with Brian True-May, and that’s very depressing.* And then those people will talk about how white people are really the ones being discriminated against these days, although they’d be hard-pressed to find much evidence to back that up, but then that’s not the point, is it? Groups of people who have power never want to acknowledge that they have it. It’s a lot more satisfying to pretend you don’t have power and privilege, because then you can complain about being victimised. Which is particularly annoying for the actual victims of discrimination: not only are they dealing with institutional racism (or sexism or all the other prejudices people have to deal with), the people doing it are also demanding sympathy.

I love English villages. I love duck ponds and cottages and cream tea, and mysterious bodies found in the library of the local manor house, and little old ladies who ramble on endlessly about knitting and then turn out to have known who the murderer was all along. None of that depends on anyone’s skin colour or ethnicity – or religion or gender or sexual orientation. If Brian True-May thinks it does, he’s the wrong person to be writing about it.

*A few links – I could post dozens – to show what I mean:

There is massive discrimination shown in workplaces, still.

- Objects can be casually divided up into, effectively, ‘normal‘ and ‘ethnic‘, as if not having a white face was some kind of weird aberration.

People who don’t think they are racist are often still racist, just less aware of it.